Charlea Armstead is no different to many girls her age. She’s a fan of Justin Bieber and dreams of being a ballerina. The only thing that separates this 12-year-old from most of her peers is the fact that she is also bravely battling dementia.
Although often mistake as a condition of old age, the debilitating effects of dementia are particularly terrible and heartbreaking when they strike someone so young.
Charlea has a rare neurological condition called Niemann-Pick Type C, which is stealing her youth and slowly robbing her of memory and mobility.
Charlea is one of only 82 people who are suffering from the disease in the UK. There are estimated to be 500 cases worldwide. Currently, there is no cure for the condition which also causes incontinence and confusion.
In a bid to raise awareness of the degenerative condition, Charlea’s 29-year-old mum, Danielle Craig, told the Daily Mail of her daughter’s inspiring bravery.
“We don’t know when this cruel disease will take Charlea. We were told it could be two years or ten. Charlea is 12 and she’s still fighting. She never stops smiling. She has big dreams for a wonderful life. I just hope a cure is found soon so all her wishes come true.”
Although born seemingly healthy, when Charlea was just two weeks old, she developed jaundice and a swollen stomach. Miss Craig recalls how doctors at the hospital tested her daughter for Niemann-Pick.
“The condition is so rare that a skin graft was taken from her arm and sent for analysis to France. It was six months before we got the devastating results.”
Following Charlea’s diagnosis, doctors explained to Miss Craig that she and Charlea’s father carried the gene responsible for their daughter’s disease.
“We were told she may never walk or talk properly and if she did she would lose these skills at an early age. Rarely do people with NPD-C live into their teens.
“We were told she may never walk or talk properly and if she did she would lose these skills at an early age. Rarely do people with NPD-C live into their teens.”
However, Charlea defied the odds and bravely fought the condition, which causes an excess of cholesterol to build up in cells which affect the brain and other organs.
The spirited youngster learned to talk at 12 months and was walking three months later. Sadly, by the age of six, Charlea had difficulties with her coordination, trouble holding a pen, and displayed worrying signs of confusion.
Yet in a show of inspirational tenacity, Charlea didn’t allow her condition to prevent her from joining professional ballet dancers on stage at a rehearsal of Swan Lake in Manchester, during a special day out arranged by the Make A Wish Foundation in 2009.
Fortunately for Charlea, she is surrounded by a family who love and will do anything to help her. The youngster’s 7-year-old brother, Tyler, helps his sister all he can with everything from reading, writing, drawing, and other skills. When Charlea’s brother was recently asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he gave the most touching reply.
“A doctor! So I can fix Chelsea.”